At the time, I couldn’t believe that The Horse Whisperer missed out on a nomination here. It makes a little more sense now twenty years later considering that the movie has been completely forgotten, but “long but boring” seems to be this branch’s sweet spot. It’s a beautiful movie that seems tailor made for a nomination. Richardson would have to wait another year for his first nomination unbound from Oliver Stone. He was the ASC’s fifth choice alongside Elizabeth, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, and The Thin Red Line. If Beloved hadn’t completely imploded, Tak Fujimoto could’ve picked up his first nomination. The other three possibilities likely cut into each other’s votes. Peter Biziou for The Truman Show found endlessly creative angles to create a sense of cramped, voyeuristic space. A previous winner for Mississippi Burning, his omission isn’t surprising considering how much the film underperformed. On the other end of the TV-as-satire spectrum, maybe John Lindley’s work on Pleasantville was too intricately tied to its visual effects. Not that that’s hurt any film since. Or perhaps this was just a movie more beloved by Oscar bloggers than voters. And on the other end of the black and white spectrum, Seamus Deasy earned some mention for John Boorman’s The General, a film I barely remember.
Instead, the Academy nominated Conrad Hall for A Civil Action, which was predicted by zero humans on the planet. At this point, Conrad Hall had picked up a very solid track record for getting nominated for films about people doing things at table, be it chess or reading legal briefs. I revisited it a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful-looking, atmospheric legal drama that plays a bit more satisfying today amidst diminished expectations, for the film and Travolta’s hot streak. But it still looks like the odd film out.
There’s not much to say about the two costume films. About Elizabeth, because William Goldman already summed it up as good as anyone could. It’s such an overly-shot film that it’s a bit surprisingly Shekhar Kapur didn’t get a Best Director nomination. That’s not a compliment. And there’s not much to say about Shakespeare in Love, because…well, it’s pretty. Very pretty, in fact. There’s a beautiful swoony quality to the images, and how Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow eye-fuck each other. Subsequent viewing reveal how much of their performances and chemistry was built on holding on one’s face while the other is talking. A cheat, for sure, but Shakespeare in Love is a film I love and so it’s a cheat that works.
But the big question is: Kaminski or Toll? There’s a chance if I had one tie to bestow ever in Oscar history, it would be here. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is up there. How difficult is this choice? It almost becomes a moral question. What do you value in a war film? While Saving Private Ryan’s cinematography was an influential, technological breakthrough, The Thin Red Line’s cinematography felt timeless. I’m choosing The Thin Red Line simply because twenty years later, Spielberg’s film resembles other, shittier war films or video games, while Malick’s still looks like a cathedral.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver